Toscano makes all of his pappardelle egg noodles from scratch using Anson Mills African Red Sorghum
Italian food is well-suited to the Lowcountry's tastes. While universally appealing, it boils down to ingredient-driven cuisine with a strong sense of place and that is something Charleston does decidedly well. In this age of conscious and educated consumerism, Slow Food takes center stage at awakened home kitchen and restaurant tables alike. It's an action-oriented mentality with no degree of practice too small or too great: Utilize what's seasonal and local, shop and eat at small businesses, embrace tradition and diversity, cook at home, recycle. Charleston makes it pretty easy and many of us are already living the tenets of Slow Food.
As new-to-town chef Michael Toscano points out, the scene here is different from his former New York City home. When chatting recently about the countless relationships forged in and around his Beaufain Street kitchen, Toscano reflected, emphasizing the slower pace of things, that "people take the time and want to know you here." There's little doubt the move South came with discernible change, especially after years of working in NYC, where there's hardly a hello, much less a story shared by an in-the-know farmer on a weekly delivery route. For Toscano, though, the interpersonal side of things has seemed to come naturally. "Everyone is so excited about what they're doing. It has to be the best to use it and all the producers are unbelievable. It makes it easy," Toscano says.
The relational nature of business in Charleston organically advances Slow Food's mission of 'Good, Clean, and Fair Food for All." While I'd imagine the Southern tradition of politely entertaining conversation is not always the most welcome distraction in the hours leading up to a busy restaurant service, I'd also guess many good things have come from these brief exchanges. It's when talking through our experiences and ideas that we learn from others, and when we support one another and hold each other accountable that the end results are passion and progress. It's the hard work of many hands that make possible the communal joy and pleasure of a shared meal. Let's slow down and look at how some of these people come together to create something comforting and familiar in Le Farfalle's Sorghum Pappardelle with sausage, escarole, and caciocavallo.
The Pasta: Pappardelle is a freshly made egg noodle. Toscano adds an Anson Mills African Red Sorghum, milling it in-house, and incorporating it into the dough, which adds some body to the texture and a fruity, nutty taste. Blending the sorghum with a flour imported from Italy, the noodle offers up something a little different while still acting as an appropriate vessel for slurping up the sugo. Incorporating a cereal grain from Anson Mills supports the work and advocacy of Glenn Roberts, who is well known for his efforts repatriating historically relevant crops and is a steadfast supporter of Slow Food.
The Meat: Tank Jackson of Holy City Hogs makes weekly deliveries to Toscano after an introduction was made by Charleston chef BJ Dennis. Tank is committed to responsible animal husbandry and the practice of raising pastured heirloom breeds. When he takes his hogs the 90 miles for processing at Williamsburg Packing, a humane slaughterhouse in Kingstree, he grinds the hams and shoulders into a sausage. Toscano then cooks that with fennel and onion, and cuts it with a pork stock made from the bones of these same happy pigs. Le Farfalle is committed to using 100 percent Holy City Hogs, which is a big investment in Jackson's farm and process. The nose-to-tail use of the hog reduces waste and honors the life of the animal, but requires creativity in order to be sustainable, all efforts championed by Slow Food.
The Veg: Escarole isn't grown abundantly in Charleston, but when it is available distributors like Limehouse Produce and GrowFood Carolina make it easier to find. This bitter Italian green in the chicory family is akin to frisee and adds a contrasting bite to the unctuous pork ragu. Using ingredients not readily grown locally is commonplace, so having purveyors like Limehouse and GrowFood makes it easier for chefs to survey what's available and make informed purchasing decisions.
The Cheese: Caciocavallo is a provolone-like Italian staple, produced throughout Calabria and Southern Italy. This tear-shaped cheese, imported and distributed by International Gourmet Foods (IGF), brings tradition and flavor to this pasta, binding the dish's components. IGF is a savior to Charleston chefs. Their international portfolios honor tradition and foodways unique to other parts of the world by sourcing and importing specialties that aren't available locally. Slow Food continues to strive for inclusivity, as diversity is critical to the sustainability of the global food system.
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